As time wears on, all sports evolve — and bowling has definitely changed.
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In recent years, young bowlers have gotten the chance to attend college with league and tournament money earned from bowling, which goes into SMART fund accounts to help pay for tuition.
Additionally there are several scholarships available for students who participate in bowling.
Bowling had gained recognition with 21 states by the 2015-16 season as a varsity high school sport, but not in Colorado. There were 141 colleges in the U.S. during the 2015-16 season that had men’s varsity bowling teams and 139 schools had women’s bowling programs.
Only women’s bowling is a sanctioned NCAA sport as an equivalency sport for scholarship purposes. There is one women’s national championship for all divisions but some colleges do have men’s varsity teams. In a Scholarshipstats.com report, there were 29,105 high school bowlers in 2015 and 791 college varsity bowlers. There were 26,110 female high school bowlers and 1,270 college varsity bowlers.
The NCAA Division I scholarship limit for women’s team is five but schools can reach the limit by offering half scholarships to 10 bowlers. The limit is also five in Division II and eight in National Junior College Athletic Association.
The alley isn’t the only aspect of bowling that has changed. So has the ball.
And scores are going up.
Castle Rock resident Brian Sowder, who is a 220-average bowler, said the changes might be good.
“The higher scores draw the younger generation,” he said. “That’s instant gratification and with the new equipment it helps with that. You still have to throw the ball and do all the things, but the higher scores on a normal day are more attainable than they used to be.”
Lanes used to be wood but are now synthetic. Balls have evolved from hard rubber, plastic polyester, urethane to reactive resin balls. And oil patterns on lanes are more often than not conducive to high scores.
“The difference in the equipment is night and day,” said Billy Gensch who is the manager of Arapahoe Bowling Center at 68509 S. Dayton St. in Greenwood Village. “The game is a lot easier now, the balls are more powerful and drive to the pins more. In the ‘80s and ‘90s it was hit your mark, be consistent and to roll that high game, it was all about accuracy.”
Ron Buckner, of Littleton, has been a certified coach for over 38 years.
“Technology has influenced the sport of bowling to the degree that the average bowler in an average house has the ability to score,” he said.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the facilities themselves. Bowling used to be primarily a blue-collar sport that was driven by league and tournament bowlers, with food and beverage sales boosting the profitability. Now many bowling centers are social, family entertainment centers that appeal to the younger generation.
At least one study says the number of people who bowl has been on the upswing in recent years. But for those who come to the lanes to focus on rolling a high score - often as part of league play - the trend of bowling alleys becoming social centers isn't a selling point.
"It's always neat to see what they are doing new, but I'm a traditionalist when it comes to bowling," said Wes Yelvington, a 182-average bowler from Littleton. "I like places that are bowling alleys. You didn't have the arcades and pool tables. That's cool and fun. It's like an indoor amusement park for kids - but I want a little more."
According to a Sports & Fitness Industry Association bowling participation report, league bowlers dropped from 2.48 million in 2007-08 to 1.49 million in 2015-16. The number of bowling alleys in a 15-year span dropped 26 percent from 5,400 to 3,976 in 2013. But the number of people who say they bowl increased 10 percent.
For some professionals, the modern climate doesn't hold a lot of promise for the sport - as opposed to the social activity - of bowling.
"The bowling industry doesn't have as many centers to bowl in and it tends to be going downhill around the Denver area," said Sharon Powers, a 10-time Denver Women's Bowler of the Year from Lakewood and a former tour professional. "People don't take it seriously. It's just 'Let's go bowl a couple games and go play pinball machines.' To me it's almost like making a joke of bowling."
For a typical Friday or Saturday night outing, bowling costs more than $5 a game, not including shoe rental. Toss in video games and food and the dollars add up.
To that end, today's bowlers tend to have higher-than-average incomes. A 2016 Experian Simmons National Consumer Survey found the annual median income of a bowling household was more than $76,000, while more than 28 percent of all bowlers had household incomes of over $100,000. The median household income in the nation is about $56,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
There are 23 bowling centers in the Denver metro area. Only four are independently owned: Arapahoe Bowling Center, 6850 S. Dayton St., Greenwood Village; Crown Lanes, 2325 S. Federal Blvd., Denver; Paramount Bowl, 2625 Kipling St., Wheat Ridge; and Holiday Lanes, 10350 W. Colfax Ave., Lakewood.
Bowlmor AMF is the largest bowling operator in the United States, with 304 centers - 293 in the U.S., eight in Mexico and three in Canada.
Bowlmor AMF was created from the merger of Bowlmor and AMF. The company acquired Brunswick bowling centers in 2014 for $270 million.
Atairos, a private investment fund, recently acquired a substantial ownership of Bowlmor AMF for an estimated $1 billion, but the management structure will remain, which means little change in the philosophy - which is more of a party, nightclub atmosphere with mostly open bowling.
One of the Denver-area bowling centers that has adopted the Bowlmor philosophy is Bowlero Lone Tree, which has a big arcade, laser tag, big-screen televisions and glow lights.
Boondocks Food and Fun is another entertainment center that features bowling. It has locations in Utah, plus two in the Denver area: one in Parker at 18706 Cottonwood Drive, and the other in Northglenn at 11425 Community Center Drive. There are bowling lanes plus plenty of games for youngsters, including go-karts, bumper boats and miniature golf.
"At Boondocks, bowling is one of the main attractions for our guests," said John Schnerbarth, general manager of the Parker Boondocks location. "Guests can purchase bowling time by itself or as part of our unlimited day pass. We are trying to put a Wednesday evening league together that will run for 12 weeks. Hopefully we will get enough interest and teams to create this league."
Some metro-area centers manage to attract a crowd focused more on the sport than on the atmosphere - even while being part of the big chain.
Englewood's AMF Belleview Lanes is "still a league-dominant house," said Christina Radzikowski, manager of the center at 4900 S. Federal Blvd.
But that doesn't mean there haven't been some changes.
"A lot of our men's leagues have dwindled over the years," Radzikowski said. "One, because we are more mixed and women are bowling more. Overall, it's not like it was in the '60s with a guy's night out bowling and the woman stays home with the children.
"It's a different era."
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